The Confessing–and Faithful–Church

Every day I receive an e-mail from the Christian History Institute with a feature story about some aspect of church history, highlighting the faithfulness of Christians in ages past. Today’s was especially poignant to me as it revealed the stark difference between those who link their Christianity too closely to the State and those who stand for righteousness when the State does not.

This account centers on Nazi Germany, but the principles remain the same for any nation:

After Hitler came to power, he confronted Christians in Germany with uncomfortable choices. At first, few pastors seemed to recognize where Hitler was taking the church. He sought to co-opt both Lutheran and Reformed churches to support his National Socialist Party.

Many church people supported him. Sick of the decadence that had characterized the previous government, the “Weimar Republic,” many hoped that the Führer, with his emphasis on history and tradition, might usher in spiritual renewal. Others feared the Communists more than the Nazis.

Playing on the fears and longings of churchgoers, Hitler nationalized the church under a single bishop with a Nazi-inspired constitution. German churches were ordered to eject Jewish Christians, to accept Hitler as a prophet, and to accept German racial consciousness—which exalted the Aryan race above all others—as a second revelation. The so-called “German Christians” elected Ludwig Müller, an ardent Nazi, as their “Reichs-bishop.”

To keep their jobs, hundreds of clergymen accepted Müller’s racist and political restrictions. But a minority of church leaders did not. Martin Niemoller brought them together, inviting all German pastors to join what he called the Pastors’ Emergency League.

Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others joined him. These men insisted that the church belonged under the headship of Christ, not the state, and must obey God rather than national leaders. They urged German pastors to bind themselves by Scripture and centuries-old, reliable confessions of faith.

To their credit, once the stakes were made clear, many pastors resigned from the state church. A number of Protestants who stood against the Nazis gathered at the city of Barmen to discuss the situation and prepare a response. They called themselves the Confessing Church because they clung to the old confessions of faith. Niemoller and Bonhoeffer went to prison; Bonhoeffer died there. Barth fled to Switzerland. A number of Roman Catholic priests also resisted the Nazis. Some, like Bernhard Lichtenberg, died in concentration camps.

On this day, 4 January 1934, Reichs-bishop Müller tried to silence critics of the Nazi church, issuing a “muzzling order” forbidding them from speaking about the church-state issue from their pulpits. However, the Confessing Church refused to be silenced.

In May, they issued the Barmen Declaration, whose primary authors were famous Reformed theologian Karl Barth and Lutheran theologian Hans Asmussen. One of its key statements read, “We reject the false doctrine that beyond its special commission the church should and could take on the nature, tasks, and dignity which belong to the state, and thus become itself an organ of the state.”

The leaders of the confessing church’s deepest concern was to call the entire German church to a much-needed renewal. This renewal did not take place until after the fall of Hitler’s Third Reich.

Two things struck me in this account: first was the fear that seemed to be the motivation for many to accept Hitler’s regime; second was the courage it took for the Confessing Church to stand up to the pressure of conforming.

The fear was ostensibly valid due to the moral decadence that dominated the culture. When we allow fear to drive our actions, principle is often abandoned.

The courage was remarkable, as each member of the Confessing Church knew the probability of facing severe persecution and death. Many, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, were martyred for their faithfulness to Christ.

What of American Christians? How many of us would succumb to the fear that compromises the faith if the government tried to dictate in the same way Hitler did? How many of us would choose instead to stand for Christ and be the salt and light we are called to be?

What Jesus told His disciples 2000 years ago still resonates today:

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. (Mark 8:34-38)

A New Year of Observations & Analysis

I’m settled into my comfy recliner in my study, surrounded by books and enjoying a unique kind of coffee (I won’t go into that). So I’m relaxed and ready to begin another year of observations about God, man, society, and life in general.

Most people probably have this particular view of the new year:

Am I concerned about all those things? Absolutely.

Am I living in daily fear of nuclear holocaust, the undermining of the Republic, or the societal trends? No, because fear is too strong a term. I’m deeply disturbed by societal developments, but that’s not the same thing as living in fear.

I have a promise from a Higher Authority that when all is said and done, He will still be the Sovereign whom we all must eventually acknowledge, either willingly or with great regret:

At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:10)

I also lean on this promise as well as I face whatever may come this year:

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. (2 Tim. 1:7)

I won’t be timid this year. I will speak clearly about the truth of Christian faith, the necessity of discipleship, and the faith’s application to our world’s woes.

I will also speak clearly about what I see happening in our government. There are those who say we should never involve ourselves with matters of this world since it is passing away. Yet I read that we are supposed to be salt and light.

The responsibility for being salt and light is to be honest about what we see. So not everything I write will be praise for the actions of those who wield the levers of temporal power. Yet I will strive to be fair.

Regular readers of this blog know full well my concerns about Donald Trump. I am gratified by many of the decisions being made by his administration, but I also know he can’t take credit for everything. Others work hard behind the scenes, thankfully, to do their best to correct his natural bent.

How I feel about the Trump presidency at this point is precisely what commentator David French explained yesterday. It’s a fair and balanced assessment. I offer it here for those interested.

I do want the best for Trump and for the nation. But there are the issues of character, ignorance of facts, and temperament to consider.

I pledge to pray for him and all those who work with him. That’s a commandment I take seriously.

My year of observations and analysis, though, will not be dominated by politics. If you have been following this blog, you may have noticed that the number of posts devoted to politics has lessened. I believe the Lord is directing me more toward other reflections. We’ll see how that plays out.

So as we enter into the tempest of 2018—for that is undoubtedly what it will be—may we do so with full confidence that if we have submitted our lives to Him, we can be sure He will direct our path.

I leave you today with this bit of encouragement:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7)

God’s Peace in a Nuclear Age: Wisdom from Lewis

I grew up with the nuclear threat; it’s always been there. C. S. Lewis didn’t. He was 46 when those bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending WWII. So one might expect a different reaction from someone in his generation. As he surveyed the response to this new weapon, he saw that many were nearly beside themselves with fear; yet he continued to offer clear thinking on this subject (as he did on all subjects).

Three years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he authored an essay called “On Living in an Atomic Age.” “In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb,” he argued. Many were asking, “How are we to live in an atomic age?”

I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

We should not “begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation,” he counseled. We need to keep in mind that all people “were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented,” and in case we are living in a fantasy, he added, “and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways.”

“Death itself,” Lewis reminds us, has never been “a chance at all, but a certainty.”

Then he gives this sound advice:

If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (any microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

I find Lewis’s perspective to be in accord with Scripture. Here are a few samples:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:6-7

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. –I Peter 5:6-7

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. –Psalm 23:4

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. –Matthew 6:34

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. –John 14:27

May the peace of God be with us all this day.

Lewis: Casting Out Fear

C. S. Lewis 1C. S. Lewis is just so quotable. Take this one, for instance, from one of his essays, “The World’s Last Night.”

Perfect love, we know, casteth out fear. But so do several other things—ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity. It is very desirable that we should all advance to that perfection of love in which we shall fear no longer; but it is very undesirable, until we have reached that stage, that we should allow any inferior agent to cast out our fear.

The perfect love he is writing about is the love of God shown through Christ. Anything else is an artificial, temporary solution that is no solution at all. Don’t settle for anything less than the real thing.

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

Smoke on the MountainLast Sunday, I introduced you to the book Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments by Joy Davidman, who later became Joy Davidman Lewis, wife of the renowned Christian apologist.

I commented that one of the things I most appreciated about this book was her unique wording, the way she stated things to capture one’s attention. I have another few morsels from that book today that I would like to share.

In commenting on the fear that dominates our society (remember, this was written in 1953–how much more fear might we have today?), the author takes aim at the so-called leaders in society:

But the articulate, the leaders of opinion, the policy makers, all those who set the tone of our society, seem for the most part to be frightened men. And how do frightened men deal with life?

They don’t; they run away from it. The simplest among us flee openly, rushing from woman to woman, from drink to drink, from one empty amusement to another, wondering why they get so little contentment out of the eighty-miles-an-hour joy ride from unloved Here to unrewarding There.

We ignore Jesus’ admonition, Davidman insists, when He said not to worry about the future:

The words of Jesus are timeless. What worked for other frightened men will work for us. But our society refuses to listen; this injunction about tomorrow is precisely the one we will not accept.

JoyThere is a Biblical answer to fear, she reminds us. We find it in the Scripture that tells us perfect love casts out fear, and that perfect love can be found in Him:

We do not need a world in which there is nothing to be afraid of–in which obeying the law would be easy. Nor can we have such a world, for all our strivings; no matter how pleasant and safe we make the journey, the end of it is death. What we do need is to remember that we have been redeemed from death and the fear of death, and at rather a high price too.

The Ten Commandments may tell us what not to do, but the flip side is the guidance on what exactly we ought to do:

“Thou shalt not” is the beginning of wisdom. But the end of wisdom, the new law, is “Thou shalt.” To be Christian is to be old? Not a bit of it. To be Christian is to be reborn, and free, and unafraid, and immortally young.

Life in Christ is uplifting, not dreary. It is full of promise, not dread. It is the beginning of real living.